The report being released today was commissioned by the Law Society in 2021 because over time it had been clear that the legislation, including the complaints process, was no longer fit-for-purpose and was not serving the public or the profession well. This had been highlighted in 2018 with reports of sexual harassment within the legal profession.
The Law Society also wanted to understand the extent of the issues and take the opportunity to shift to a more modern regulatory environment given the changes that have taken place in New Zealand and internationally since the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act was introduced in 2006. Alongside this, the Law Society needed to ensure that the legal profession has a strong representative voice that was responsive to the needs of the profession and the public.
“The report we are releasing today outlines that statutory change is needed if we are going to do more to protect consumers and the public. The report states that while the Law Society is working within the current legislative framework, it is overly prescriptive and inefficient,” Law Society President Frazer Barton says.
“The Review Panel found that dual functions of the Law Society also don’t serve the interests of the public or the profession well, with the functions tending to be in conflict with each other. The report states that there is a strong case for a new independent regulator with a fit for purpose governance approach.
“The report also recommends that a new Act places more emphasis on our Te Tiriti obligations, and highlights that we could be doing better at providing consumers with clear information about interacting with the legal profession.
“The Law Society Board would like to thank the Review Panel for the work it has done during the past year to prepare this report.
“We would also like to thank the Profession for the time and thoughtful submissions that were provided throughout the course of this Review. This Review could not have been prepared without your input.
“The Review Panel’s report is very substantial and has given us all a lot to consider. The recommended actions have got significant and complex implications, and any legislative change wouldn’t happen quickly. We will work with government to understand the likelihood of legislative change as we strive towards our commitment to being a best practice, modern regulator and peak national representative body for the legal profession.”
The Board is currently reviewing the report and will be making recommendations to the Minister for Justice by the end of July.
“We have set a goal of becoming a best practice modern regulator, and a strong voice for profession through a representative function and this review has outlined a number of areas where steps are needed for improvement,” Mr Barton says.
“While this review has been underway, we have continued to make significant progress in line with the Review Panel’s conclusions, and will already be moving forward on a number of actions that are aligned with the recommendations. There is a new regulatory strategy in place and this has been a significant step forward on our transformation journey to modernising the regulatory functions of the Law Society and making sure our services are responsive.
“There is new leadership established at the Law Society and we have every confidence we have the right team to drive the changes that are needed. We have also started work on setting our future strategy for how we operate as a membership body and will be continuing to work with the Profession on what that will look like.
“We will be continuing to work with our team and with the profession to make progress over the coming months while we consider the recommendations, and any longer-term actions that are needed to address some of the more systemic and legislative issues that have been raised.
“This independent review is an important step forward to outlining the potential changes that are needed for the legal profession in the future, but it is going to take all of us working together to achieve the differences that are needed.”